World War II

Hooked on flying

... still a thrill 66 years later

from Bob Campbell, MHS Class of 1942

My eyes really perked up recently when I read a newspaper article about the homecoming of a Navy Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron. It reminded me immediately of a WWII experience I had at Norfolk Naval Air Station, Virginia.  I was temporarily stationed there for a few weeks after graduating as a Navy Air Gunner from Gunnery School at Virginia Beach. (Bob is pictured here in 1945).

One day I was asked if I would like to go up for a flight. It would be my first flying experience. The plane was an OS2U Kingfisher manned by a pilot and a radio man. I would take the place of the radioman. The Kingfisher’s real purpose was to report bombardments back to its mother battleship or cruiser. So, off we went … three Kingfishers. It was a beautiful day to fly. Take off was a little bumpy but that’s the way it was with pontoon-type planes. Once off the water we gained altitude and headed up the coast from Norfolk ... with me, wide-eyed in the rear cockpit … looking to the left, then the right. What a beautiful view of the coastline of Virginia!

Then, a funny thing happened. I noticed one of the pilot’s was signaling to the other two with his right hand -- a repeated up and down movement with the index finger pointed down. It didn’t take long for me to recognize the meaning of the signal because suddenly we went into a dive! And, suddenly my stomach went into a dive, too. As we pulled out I felt like my body was going to go through the floorboards! As for my breathing, my chest was completely confused -- it didn’t know whether to go in or out!

So it was that the helicopter anti-submarine plane which I read about in the newspaper brought back memories of long ago to me -- about 66  years ago to be exact! How time flies!

There you have it; my first flight. But what a flight it was! I will never forget it! I went on in my Navy flying career to fly as a flight engineer/gunner in a large PBM Flying Boat called the Mariner with a crew of nine, eight 50-caliber machine guns as well as depth chargers or bombs and a flying range of 2580 miles. What about you? Do you have a special “first flight” memory?

October 1, 2010

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